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12 Sci-fi Film Locations You Can Actually Visit
“Hey honey, where shall we go for our honeymoon? Shall we eat truffles at the top of the Eiffel Tower? Or take a midnight gondola ride in Venice? Or maybe get drunk and gamble away our life-savings in Las Vegas? What do you think?”
“Irksome Earthling! I shall not be part of some tawdry tour of this puny planet! I wish to see the stars! To engage the entirety of the ether! To travel the totality of time itself!”
And why not? Why settle for seeing the same old beaches, bars and buildings, when you can visit the desert planet of Tattoine or the lush forests of Pandora? This year why not take a trip ‘off-world’ and explore one of these twelve tantalising sci-fi locations?
12. San Rafael Swell in Utah – Vulcan, Star Trek (2009)
In J.J. Abrams’ 2009, Star Trek film, the original Spock sees Vulcan destroyed by Nero, in revenge for the destruction of Romulus. Luckily that was just a film and the location for Vulcan, the San Rafael Swell, hasn’t been blown up by an angry Romulan… yet.
If you love camping, hiking, biking and especially rock climbing, it would be illogical not to visit the San Rafael Swell. With two thousand square miles of narrow, circuitous canyons, scenic cliffs and towering rock faces, you can scramble and sprint to your green-blooded heart’s content.
11. Keahua Arboretum in Hawaii – Pandora, Avatar (2009)
Weird, barefoot creatures with flowers in their dreadlocks and rags for clothes… no, not hippies, but the Navi: giant, blue-skinned tribespeople who inhabit the lush, tropical rainforest-world of Pandora or more accurately Hawaii. James Cameron’s 2009 3D epic was for the most part computer-generated, but the live action portions of the film took place in the beautiful and serene Keahua Arboretum in Hawaii.
Home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, including the monkey-pod, mango, and fragrant eucalyptus trees, this secluded site is an ideal location for those who seek the peace and tranquillity of Pandora, without the dangerous and deadly creatures that live on that fictional, heavily forested moon.
10. Chott el Jerid in Tunisia – Tattoine, Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
Want to bullseye Womp-Rats in your T-16? Well you can’t, but you can always hire a Jeep and pretend, in setting that even Skywalker himself would be proud to call home. Chott el Jerid in Tunisia is the real world location for the desert planet of Tattoine, Luke Skywalker’s home in the first (good) instalment of the Star Wars saga.
This desert wilderness is also constantly under the scrutiny of scientists as it is the most ‘Mars-like’ place on Earth. So whichever planet you decide on – Mars or Tattoine, you’ll find Chott el Jerid out of this world. Find holidays in Tunisia.
9. Tikal National Park in Guatemala – Rebel Base, Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
If you and your rebellious friends are planning a large-scale offensive against an oppressive regime’s gigantic space station/death ray then why not do it in tantalising, tropical surroundings? That’s what the rebels of Star Wars: A New Hope did. The location of the rebel base in the first of George Lucas’s original (and superior) trilogy is the beautiful Tikal National Park in Guatemala.
With acres of rainforest and incredible Mayan ruins, this would be the perfect hideaway for anyone; not just those on the run from the Empire.
8. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in California – Endor, Star Wars: Return of The Jedi (1983)
If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise. That is, if you go to the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in California, because you’ll be instantly transported to the forest moon on Endor; or at least the location where the scenes from Star Wars: Return of The Jedi were filmed.
Unfortunately, there are no Ewoks or Imperial Stormtroopers there to grab a quick pic with, but there are over 10,000 acres of the largest trees on the planet, which make even a Wookie look small.
7. 8 Hook & Ladder in New York – Ghostbusters (1984)
Who you gonna call? Your travel agent, and book a city break straight to New York to visit the most famous Fire Department building in the world. ‘Hook and Ladder 8′ is a fully functional Fire Department (so best not park out the front or you’ll incur a hefty fine) and the location of the Ghostbusters fictional headquarters.
Even though this Fire House is still in use, the friendly fire-fighters do allow tourists in. Requests to slide down the poll are usually denied.
6. Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico – Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959)
If you are going on holiday why not take a journey to the centre of the earth? Well, because you’d be horrible burnt alive by boiling hot magma. But should you wish to visit the set of the classic sci-fi flick Journey to the Centre of the Earth, then a trip to the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico is the place to go.
The Caverns consist of over 46,000 acres of tunnels and caves; that’s enough to keep even the most ardent explorer occupied. For the less adventurous (and more sane) there’s a gift shop, where you can buy rocks, presumably.
5. Devil’s Tower in Wyoming – Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
The ‘Devil’s Tower’ in Wyoming is so incredible that you would have been forgiven for believing that it was just another special effect in Steven Spielberg’s, epic, extra-terrestrial, extravaganza, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but it is indeed real.
The first, declared, national monument in the US, the Devil’s Tower is an agonising 1,267 feet climb from its base. So if you want a good place to spot UFOs from, you better strap on your crampons.
4. Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico – Contact (1997)
Contact, the 1997 sci-fi film was disastrously disappointing. However, its epic location, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, is anything but. Boasting the world’s largest single-aperture telescope, which is an amazing 1000ft across, this, is no amateur astronomer’s apparatus.
As well as the being the setting for Contact, this mechanical monstrosity also features in various other films, including the 1997 James Bond film, Goldeneye.
3. Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia – 12 Monkeys (1995)
Do you like animals? What about simians? Say, a dozen of them? Well maybe you should go to jail. Confused? You should be. The multi-award winning film 12 Monkeys is a chaotically brilliant and baffling sci-fi flick in which its main protagonist, James Cole (Bruce Willis), is incarcerated for much of the film in an anarchic asylum. The location for this scary sanatorium is Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.
Once the most famous and expensive prison in the world, the penitentiary is now a museum, tourist attraction and art gallery. With this much on offer you’d be mad to miss it.
2. Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, California – Gattaca (1997)
In the future you’ll only be allowed to go on holiday if you’re of perfect genetic stock, while ‘natural-borns’, like you and me, are forbidden to leave the country and relegated to menial tasks such as cleaning. Or at least that is what the 1997 film Gattaca would have us believe.
The majority of the film takes place in and around a futuristic aerospace firm’s training facility, which in reality is the breathtakingly stylish Marin County Civic Centre in San Rafael. An impressively futuristic looking building which, as well as being used in Gattaca, was also the setting for THX-1138, George Lucas’ first sci-fi film.
1. Dawdon Colliery in County Durham, UK – Alien 3 (1992)
Used in multiple films over the years, the Dawdon Colliery in County Durham, UK is a great example of a real world dystopia turned utopia. Dawdon Colliery was, until recently, an ecological disaster zone devoid of life. The Colliery’s beaches were coated in oil and effluence. The perfect setting for the dystopic prison planet of David Fincher’s Alien 3.
If you enjoyed this post and want more of the same then you’re in luck – head on over to 12 sci-fi locations you can actually visit part 2!